The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
A CurtainUp Review
Every Brilliant Thing

" Happiness always scared me because it was always followed by... you know."
—the unnamed figure in Every Brilliant Thing

Every Brilliant Thing
Jonny Donahoe (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
If it's not entirely unusual to encounter a play that confronts depression, it certainly is to encounter one that does so with as much geniality as Duncan Macmillan's Every Brilliant Thing.

This solo show, which arrives at the Barrow Street Theatre following a summer premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, features Jonny Donahoe as an unnamed man who recounts the significance of a list he has made throughout his life of "everything brilliant in the world." The list starts when he is seven years old, following his mother's first suicide attempt, and continues to grow, first for his mother's sake, then later his own. Through the story of the list we see his journey unfold and come to understand how depression has shaped his life.

Meanwhile, though depression is the primary topic at hand throughout, the way it is treated here is far from clinical. Often, depression is addressed as an unavoidable element of the human experience: "If you got all the way through life without ever being heart-crushingly depressed, you probably haven't been paying attention," Donahoe declares in the performance. And when addressing the more extreme form of depression that affected his mother, his language still roots in emotion rather than psychology—for example, his advice for anyone with suicidal thoughts is simply, "Don't do it."

Donahoe's performance, directed by George Perrin, is unapologetically earnest, and even while the material is not his own, he occupies the figure (I hesitate to use the word "character" without knowing the extent to which the play is rooted in its creator's biography) so naturally that you'll easily believe he has lived through every experience he recounts.

One of the most distinctive features of Every Brilliant Thing is the way it involves the audience. A number of audience members are enlisted to read items on the list throughout the performance, and several are also called upon to play small supporting roles. Audience participation can be dangerous territory into which to venture, but here it is so smartly employed that it manages (most of the time, at least) to avoid gimmickry and become a key part of the performance, which at best almost starts to feel like an informal conversation.

Perhaps part of the reason that audience involvement works here is because it helps to offset the fixity of a solo show: even if they don't participate to a great extent, these audience members still help to form a supporting cast that lends dynamism to the production. It also plays to Donahoe's strength of making people feel comfortable, as he guides them through their roles with a gentle hand. He's even able to (politely) poke fun when a member of this hastily assembled "cast" makes a misstep while still seeming fully supportive and kind, which furthers the air of casual familiarity between him and his viewers.

More likely to make you laugh than cry, Every Brilliant Thing might open itself up to criticism on the basis of not being serious enough, or not having enough substance to do right by its intense subject matter. But its approach shouldn't be mistaken for whitewashing over the hardship of mental illness.

Like the list central to the play's narrative arc, Every Brilliant Thing doesn't try to ignore the severity of depression. Rather, it takes a firm stance that in the face of hardship, that's when it's most important to celebrate what's brilliant in life.

Every Brilliant Thing
by Duncan Macmillan
Directed by George Perrin
Cast:Jonny Donahoe
Production Stage Manager: Richard A. Hodge
Presented by Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre Company
Running Time: 60 minutes with no intermission
The Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow Street at 7th Avenue South
Tickets: $20-$55; 212-868-4444
From 12/06/14; opening 12/14; closing 3/29/15.
Performance times: Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 pm
Reviewed by Jacob Horn based on 12/13/14 performance
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Every Brilliant Thing
  • I disagree with the review of Every Brilliant Thing
  • The review made me eager to see Every Brilliant Thing
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
The New Similes Dictionary
New Similes Dictionary

Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free

Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show

©Copyright 2014, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from